For years, educators at the K-12 level have worried about white and wealthy flight from cities to suburbs and the effect this development has on the education of low-income and minority students left behind. But is something similar happening in higher education? New evidence suggests the answer is yes, though you wouldn’t know it from mainstream discussions.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released its annual Condition of Education report, which had some bad news on the equity front for elementary and secondary schools but seemed to have some good news for higher education.
The report found that poor and minority students are increasingly concentrated in high poverty elementary and secondary schools. Between the 1999-2000 and 2007-08 school years the proportion of students who attended high poverty schools increased from 12% to 17% – a 42% jump. This increasing economic segregation is troublesome, as the Christian Science Monitor noted, because high poverty schools tend to have lower levels of parental involvement, lower expectations, negative peer influences, and trouble attracting strong teachers. According to the federal report, black and Hispanic students were eight times as likely as whites to be stuck in high poverty elementary schools (those with more than 75% of students from low-income families) and 15 times as likely to be in high poverty middle and high schools.
By contrast, The Condition of Education 2010 appeared to offer some good news about equity in higher education. Between 1972 and 2008, the report indicated, the percentage of high school completers who immediately enrolled in a 2 or 4-year college by the following October rose steadily, from about 50% to 69%. Notably, the report emphasized, the gap between high-income and low-income groups immediately enrolling in college shrunk substantially, from 41 percentage points in 1972 to 25 percentage points in 2008.
What the report didn’t note, however, is the increasing stratification – and white flight – within the higher education universe. As a forthcoming study by Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl finds, while the overall increase in enrollment of low-income and minority students in higher education is welcome, the trend is accompanied by white and wealthy flight from less selective institutions to more selective ones. The report, included in a Century Foundation volume entitled Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College, finds that between 1994 and 2006, white student representation declined from 79 percent to 58 percent at less-selective and noncompetitive institutions, while black student representation soared from 11 percent to 28 percent, twice their share of the high school class. For those interested, the book will be released on June 17 at a forum in Washington D.C. featuring Carnevale, former New York Times education editor Edward B. Fiske, Lois Rice of the Brookings Institution, and William Fitzsimmons of Harvard University. Among the topics will be a discussion of how to reduce in higher education the economic and racial segregation that has been so damaging in elementary and secondary schooling.